get it home page promo

Filling a need: Mexico native starts restaurant empire in Montana

2004-09-05T00:00:00Z Filling a need: Mexico native starts restaurant empire in MontanaBy CURTIS WACKERLE - The Montana Standard - 09/05/04 Helena Independent Record

BUTTE — On a trip to Yellowstone National Park with his family four years ago, Magdaleno Barragan visited Montana for the first time and saw an opportunity to carve out a niche.

A native of Melaque, Mexico, who had been working in the restaurant business in Oregon for the past 20 years, Barragan felt he could provide something that Montana didn't have enough of: authentic Mexican food.

So Barragan relocated and launched his Montana restaurant business in Butte, simply because it was one of the towns he had visited on that trip to Yellowstone.

Three years later, Barragan's restaurants, named Melaque in honor of his hometown, are in six Montana cities: Butte, Anaconda, Bozeman, Belgrade, Great Falls and Helena.

Barragan, 40, credits his success to a hard work ethic, authentic food and good service. "The secret is just to take care of the customer," Barragan said. "Just keep them coming back."

Melaque's salsa and most of the sauces are made from scratch, and Barragan buys the tortillas and produce from a special supplier in Oregon, he said.

If Barragan didn't personally cook your meal on a visit to Melaque, the person who did learned directly from him, he said.

"I am the one who is in the kitchen the most," Barragan said.

Barragan came to the United States in 1979 looking for what he calls "the American dream." He learned most of his cooking skills when he was working in Mexican restaurants in Oregon. He got his start in the restaurant business when a friend invited Barragan to work in his restaurant. Prior to that, Barragan worked in the fields of the Willamette Valley and other agricultural areas in the west.

Looking over Melaque's menu is a lesson in Spanish 101. Most of the foods are identified by their native name. Mariscos is seafood, pollo is chicken and carne is beef or meat. All six restaurants have the same menu.

Barragan said some of Melaque's specialties include carne asada — a spicy, tangy Mexican steak dish, and pollo a la creme — chicken in a cream sauce. Barragan's day at the restaurant usually starts at 7 a.m. and lasts until midnight. Typically, Barragan will work three or four days at the restaurant and his wife will work the other days. He shares the work with his wife so he can raise his four sons.

Seven of Barragan's 11 brothers now live in Montana and help him manage the six restaurants. Barragan and family hand-make all the booths in the Melaque restaurants at their Butte home, Barragan said.

Just to be sure he could handle the harsh Montana winter, Barragan lived through one in Butte before opening his first restaurant here.

"It snows a lot here," he said, but he decided he could handle it.

The restaurants' atmosphere is also important to Barragan. The textured, white walls inside the the Butte facility are adorned with boldly colored paintings and pottery purchased in markets in Mexico.

Barragan makes trips back to his native country every six months to get the decorations and to visit his extensive family still living in Melaque. Barragan also manages apartment buildings which are a stone's throw from the Pacific Ocean in Melaque, he said.

Melaque is in the state of Jalisco on the central western Mexican coast. It shares the state with the resort town of Puerto Vallarta and Mexico's second largest city, Guadalajara.

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

No Comments Posted.

Civil Dialogue

We provide this community forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on the news of the day. Passionate views, pointed criticism and critical thinking are welcome. Name-calling, crude language and personal abuse are not welcome. Moderators will monitor comments with an eye toward maintaining a high level of civility in this forum. Our comment policy explains the rules of the road for registered commenters. If you receive an error after submitting a comment, please contact us.

If your comment was not approved, perhaps:

    1. You called someone an idiot, a racist, a dope, a moron, etc. Please, no name-calling or profanity (or veiled profanity -- #$%^&*).

    2. You rambled, failed to stay on topic or exhibited troll-like behavior intended to hijack the discussion at hand.

    3. YOU SHOUTED YOUR COMMENT IN ALL CAPS. This is hard to read and annoys readers.

    4. You have issues with a business. Have a bad meal? Feel you were overcharged at the store? New car is a lemon? Contact the business directly with your customer service concerns.

    5. You believe the newspaper's coverage is unfair. It would be better to write the editor at editor@helenair.com. This is a forum for community discussion, not for media criticism. We'd rather address your concerns directly.

    6. You included an e-mail address or phone number, pretended to be someone you aren't or offered a comment that makes no sense.

    7. You accused someone of a crime or assigned guilt or punishment to someone suspected of a crime.

    8. Your comment is in really poor taste.

    9. Don't write a novel. If your comment is longer than the article you're commenting on, you might want to cut it down a bit. Lengthy comments will likely be removed.
Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

Follow the Independent Record

Great Helena Businesses